Religion of Self

Most of American Christianity has become a “religion of self.” It may apply to “cafeteria Catholics” or Episcopalians. It certainly applies to Unitarian Universalists (remember their commercials from several years ago that depicted people cobbling together their own belief systems). It applies to American Evangelicalism/Fundamentalism in the “me and Jesus” mentality and the incessant splitting of congregations and denominations as if we can say to one another, “you are not needed any longer,” as we yell heresy.
It is grounded in self, the defining of faith by individual religious feelings, rather than seeking Truth. The individual is paramount.
As I have come to understand the notion of the “catholic” nature of the Church, I have moved further and further away from “religion of self.” I am not the final arbiter of what is Truth, even my “personal truth.” I can reject anything and blindly believe anything, but Truth is something that is beyond the mere self.
So, what does this all mean?

Government’s Responsibility & Self-Sufficiency

From Sojourners, this quote:

“To be poor in America was to be invisible, but not after this week, not after those images of the bedraggled masses at the Superdome, convention center and airport. No one can claim that the post-Reagan orthodoxy of low taxes and small government, which does wonders for the extremely rich, also inevitably does wonders for the extremely poor. What was that about a rising tide lifting all boats? What if you don’t have a boat?”
– Eugene Robinson, columnist.
Source: The Washington Post

I don’t know whether it is post-Reagan orthodoxy or not, but I will always say that the best route for the prosperity of people is to help them be self-sufficient, not dependent on the government. Katrina shows us that it is dangerous to depend on government. If Mr. Robinson advocates a return to the Great Society programs that lead to 1970’s style welfare system, then I will say he is absolutely wrong.
Teach a person to fish, rather than simply giving them fish. Big government will get us no where and give us nothing much more than dependence, corruption, waste, and graft. Smaller government that focuses on the constitutionally given responsibility of protecting the people will encompass helping the poor to have equal opportunity to be as self-sufficient as anyone else. (Self-sufficiency, I believe, incorporates community. Self-sufficiency is not about not needing anyone else.)

Politics and Preaching

I preached at St. Paul’s again this past Sunday. There was a search committee from a church that is considering me for their open vicar position at St. Paul’s evaluating me as I did my “stuff.”
Afterwards, two St. Paul’s members, two of our more mature members whom I love, came up to me individually and said that they really liked the sermon, but could certainly discern my politics from the sermon. One said they really don’t like politics in the pulpit, but the sermon was great anyway. So, I said, “I bet you really don’t know my politics from that sermon!” Both of them said something like, “Oh, yes, it came through loud and clear.”
I asked one of them, “So, what do you think my political persuasion really is?” He said, “On the far left of the Democratic party.” Oh my gosh! A far left-Democrat! Me! Well, I said, “Oh my no!”
Isn’t it funny the perceptions people form about us from our words? Of course that is how they form opinions, but it drives home the need to be very careful with our words. I try very hard to be neutral concerning politics when I preach. It is not so important to me whether someone is a stanch conservative or a socialist, but that they are informed and reasonable. Yet, I think when some people hear what sounds unconventional (which the way of Jesus will always be!), it sounds liberal.
The search committee really liked the sermon, too!

For those who do not believe

Those who wish to discount the Bible as being anything other than the writings of simple people trying to understand their world in an unscientific and irrational time, here is a report of a rediscovery that substantiates biblical history and geography.
It is perfectly legitimate, in my opinion, to suggest that John or any of the biblical writers use allegory and story telling to convey religious truths, but many demand that that is what the Bible is all about – and as proof they often discount historical and geographic accounts as untrue. This was the case with the Hebrew Testament cities of Sodom and Gomorra, which many scholars used to prove the unreliability of biblical accounts because they did not believe the cities ever actually existed. Until they were found, that is. There are many such examples. Now, the Pool of Siloam has been found. I love it when this happens.

A Gospel of John Passage Is Proven True
It turns out that a specific passage from the Gospel of John wasn’t a religious conceit, that is a kind of poetic license John took to prove a point. It’s true. Now there is proof. When the sewer line in the Old City of Jerusalem needed repairs in the fall of 2004, the workmen made a historic discovery: the biblical Pool of Siloam. The Gospel of John cites this as the place where Jesus cured the blind man. Theologians have long thought the setting of the pool was a “religious conceit” used by John to illustrate a point. Turns out, the place is real. And it’s exactly where John said it is, reports The Los Angeles Times of a new study published in the Biblical Archaeology Review.

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From The Living Church
Personal Stories after the Hurricane
As thousands of displaced persons left New Orleans and the Gulf Coast of Mississippi in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, others were moving into the ravaged area as caregivers. The stories are intriguing:
The Rev. Jerry Kramer, rector of Church of the Annunciation, New
Orleans, provided a valuable service by posting frequent updates on the internet. Fr. Kramer was writing from St. Luke’s Church, Baton Rouge, where he and his family fled for safety following the arrival of Katrina.
“As of this evening I have 28 parish families remaining on our missing list,” he wrote on Sept. 4. “Found two more earlier in the day and I wanted to cry with joy. One family with two children made it to Tennessee, another to this area. The search goes on; we are working the phones and internet sites feverishly.”
On Sept. 7 he told of returning to New Orleans and traveling by boat to visit his church: “I could never have been prepared to view the state of our beautiful old church. The waters peaked at five to six feet, now resting at about four. Pews turned over, Bibles, prayer books and hymnals all floating. The water had reached one foot up the high main altar where someone had put out a cigarette.
“Praise God the sacristy was still locked. We filled a garbage bag full of vestments and the remaining silver, locked everything up, loaded the boat, and began paddling for my house about seven blocks north. There we discovered the water still about seven feet high. You can’t even see the front door. Most of our things were on the first floor, completely submerged. Again we docked the boat, filled a few garbage bags with clothes for the kids from the intact third floor and then paddled back down Napoleon to where our journey began. Almost immediately I broke out in a rash and now have stomach issues. Taking antibiotics and threw away most of the clothes I was wearing.”
* * *
The Rev. Rob Dewey, founder of the Coastal Crisis Chaplaincy in Charleston, S.C., was deployed by FEMA as part of D MORT, the disaster mortuary response team, to the Mississippi coast. He found there “six blown-out churches, nothing but slabs.”
Fr. Dewey and Bishop Duncan Gray III of Mississippi visited a makeshift morgue before it began to operate. “He blessed it, sprinkled it and all the people working, and the trailers on site already containing remains,” Fr. Dewey said.
Fr. Dewey has been sleeping at the morgue in Gulfport. “It’s a way to
reach out to people doing a tremendous job,” he said. Asked how he was
able to do this, he answered, “It would be tough to do this and not be a Christian. There is grief, devastation, loss; nobody’s at the acceptance stage yet.”
He said a highlight was when he was on his way to meet Bishop Gray at St. Mark’s Church, Gulfport. He saw an Episcopal flag and stopped. “All the walls were blown out but the roof was held up by the columns,” he said. “There were about 20 people gathered outside. They asked me if I was their supply priest. When I said no, but that I was a priest, they asked me to do a service. So we had a service and the
laying-on-of-hands, around what used to be the altar. It was very moving. It was a God thing.”
Fr. Dewey expressed frustration at the lack of coordination by the Episcopal Church for responding to disasters.
“We do not have a plan in place,” he said. “The bishops and priests here are very frustrated that more is not being done to assist them. And they’ve had personal tragedies, too. They need help. I hope after this the national Church will have a plan ready for the next disaster.”
* * *
Daniel Muth, of Prince Frederick, Md., a member of TLC’s board of directors, participated in the rescue of his 92-year-old grandmother from her home in Metairie, La. Mr. Muth, his father and brother, drove to Louisiana, arriving on the Saturday following the hurricane. They found Dorothy Muth safe but without water or power for a week and in need of evacuation.
“We convinced her to leave, got her packed and out in just over an hour,” he said. “By this point she wasn’t much into putting up resistance.
“Lacking a TV or newspaper, she…did not know the extent of the devastation … She appears to be in good health and amazingly good spirits, all things considered.” Mrs. Muth is now residing with relatives in St. Leonard, Md.
Mr. Muth described the scene in Metairie as “surreal.” The buildings “were largely empty with the exception of the occasional stunned-looking resident cleaning up the odd bit of debris. My grandmother’s street, normally shaded by oaks, was open to the sun because of so many limbs were torn off the trees. Her yard was a mass of leaves, branches, and limbs. The house appeared undamaged. The air was filled with a constant buzz of military helicopters coming and going from the airport a few miles west. The sun was hot and the mosquitos were incessant.”
* * *
Kimberly King, a member of Christ Church, Bay St. Louis, Miss., told of her visit to her church’s site after the storm:

“… the church is gone except for part of the bell tower. The entire church, all buildings, the rectory, all gone. We did find a brass cross that was on the altar, and the processional cross, as well as several brass plaques, the Episcopal Church flag, and some stained glass parts. Two of the stained glass windows were intact, and laid on the ground. The rest was gone.”

* * *
Howard Castleberry, a member of St. John the Divine, Houston, assisted with relief efforts at the Astrodome, where many of the evacuees from New Orleans were taken by bus. He told of his experience on a private listserv:

As new survivors poured in, there were hundreds … of single moms with children under the age of 2,” he wrote. “Many had babies only weeks old. These babies hadn’t eaten formula or milk in days. Mothers had lost the bottles while wading through floodwaters, or had reeking ones that were now useless.
There was powdered formula donated everywhere, but only a few new bottles at the Dome. There were jugs of water. So I began to mix
formula like mad. I distributed what I could, but realized there was an immediate need for 50 baby bottles, or some of these infants were going to fall into shock. I called friends on my cell and begged for them to immediately get in their cars, run to the store, and then meet me at the edge of the complex parking lot. I stood there and caught bags of bottles tossed to me from their cars. I ran back to the Astroarena, where we filled bottles as quickly as possible. The looks on the mothers’ faces was a mix of tearful thanks and exhausted relief.

* * *
Among the casualties of Katrina was the venerable bell tower at Church of the Redeemer, Biloxi, Miss., erected in 1891. When Hurricane Camille struck in 1969, the church was destroyed but the bell tower remained. Katrina’s power took down the red wooden tower, which had become somewhat of a landmark for residents along the Gulf Coast. Even though the bell lay in the rubble of the tower, it was rung for the Eucharist on Sunday, Sept. 4.
* * *
On the website of the Diocese of Mississippi, the Very Rev. Joe Robinson, dean of St. Andrew’s Cathedral, Jackson, wrote of a trip to the Gulf Coast to deliver some relief supplies. He described the scene as “decimated for a 50-mile stretch. There is nothing but matchsticks up to 10 blocks deep from the beach in some places and banana containers tossed for miles like a deluxe-sized set of dominoes.”
* * *
The Rev. Jean Meade, rector of Mt. Olivet, New Orleans, told of her house catching fire from an ember of a fire two blocks away. Her husband, Louis, was home and asked firefighters from the other blaze to provide assistance. “They were from Alabama, Aspen, Colo., and New York City,” she wrote. “They came into New Orleans even though they were told they were not needed.” The fire was extinguished before there was major damage.
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From a Netscape article on the effects of divorce:

Kids of Divorced Parents: Unsettling News
Children whose parents are divorced may have the best intentions not to repeat the same painful mistakes in their own marriages, but the reality is that they face unfavorable odds. According to researchers from the University of Utah, if one spouse comes from divorced parents, the couple may be up to twice as likely to divorce. Spouses who are both children of divorced parents are three times more likely to divorce as couples who both come from intact families.
“Growing up in a divorced family greatly increases the chances of ending one’s own marriage, a phenomenon called the divorce cycle or the intergenerational transmission of divorce,” says Nicholas H. Wolfinger, assistant professor in the University of Utah’s Department of Family and Consumer Studies and author of “Understanding the Divorce Cycle: The Children of Divorce in Their Own Marriages.” Wolfinger’s research is based on the National Survey of Families and Households, which included detailed information on family background for 13,000 people, and the General Social Survey, which surveyed 20,000 people over a 30-year period.
After a decade of study, Wolfinger has reached the following conclusions about the children of divorced parents. They are more likely to:
–marry as teenagers.
–marry someone who is also a child of divorced parents.
–They are one-third less likely to marry if they are over 20.

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Episcopal Squirrels

My friend John sent me a link to another weblog containing this joke. So true, but by the grace of God hopefully not for much longer!
Episcopal Squirrels
A joke I’ve seen several places on the internet . . .
Three churches in a small town found that their church buildings had become over-run with squirrels.
The Presbyterian church decided that it was pre-destined that the squirrels would be there and therefore left the squirrels to their own devices.
The Unitarian church decided the best measure was to humanely trap the squirrels and take them to a nice place in the woods. Naturally the squirrels returned three days later.
The Episcopal church decided to have the squirrels baptized and confirmed. Now the squirrels only come to church on Christmas and Easter.
I suspect that a certain segment of Pentecostals/Charismatics would rebuke the demon of squrrel infestation and cast them out into utter darkness.

Katrina’s Aftermath

There is not much I can say. We have all seen the devastation. My cousin, Sonja, and I grew up together and she and her family live in New Orleans – actually Coventry on the north shore of Lake Pontchartrain. She breeds horses. The sustained winds were 130 mph during the hurricane. They all traveled 40 miles inland to my uncle’s place, her father’s.
After the hurricane passed, she was able to get to her house and found that all the horses had made it through, which seems remarkable to me. My uncle’s house sustained no primary damage, although a huge oak tree fell across the swimming pool. Actually, and the huge oaks in his yard fell. He was told not to expect electricity for another month, and while they have generators they have to travel 40 miles to get gasoline at this point.
If anyone is considering donations for victim relief, please consider giving to Episcopal Relief and Development. They are a very effective organization that works with local people and groups. Your money will be wisely spent.